Norwich City and the penalty of raised expectation

DANIEL FARKE’s dismissal just after Norwich City had secured their first victory in the Premier League may have seemed a little harsh, but it may have sent a signal that the club is unwilling to continue its recent cycle of promotion-relegation-promotion.

Norwich outspent more than half the current Premier League – £60 million – in the last transfer window and their gross outlay was three times the Canaries’ total for 2020-21. Their last Premier season, 2019-20, saw them spend just £ 8 million. Those figures tell you that expectation may just have been that little bit higher than the last time Norwich graced the top flight.

With half their regular line-up changing from 2020-21, Norwich probably needed time to gel, but 11 games into the season, just one win and two draws was the sum total of their efforts. In the past five years, Norwich’s record was the worst of all newly-promoted sides at the same stage, a dubious honour shared with Fulham in 2018-19. Just five goals in 11 represents a dire return, with three of those goals coming from Teemu Pukki.

Even in early November, Norwich’s position looks perilous and may have been worsened by the reinvigoration that will surely take place at Newcastle United. Norwich may have acquired the tag of “yo-yo club”, but settling for such a varied and limited strategy can be dangerous when things don’t go to plan. 

It’s a little like a club at the top end considering Champions League qualification as a form of honourable status, only to find it leaves you empty-handed when you slip below that benchmark. Console yourself with being a “snakes and ladders” club doesn’t look too great when you drop from being a contender and lose momentum in the Championship. 

As it stands, Norwich look destined to return to the second tier, but given they have spent big by their standards, it would represent a failed gamble, especially as the club has been quite dependent on player trading as a form of financial stability. Over the past seven years, they have made more than £ 150 million from player sales.

Farke was seen as a very human “nice guy” by many people in the game, certainly benefitting from having the likes of Jürgen Klopp on speed-dial. His record at Norwich reflected the club’s contemporary status, two Championship successes and a relegation and a win rate of 41.8%. He departed with no small amount of style, talking of the “great pride” in his time with the Canaries. He even thanked the local media for their coverage!

It is, of course, the sacking season in top level football. An international break provides some respite for club officials and a time of assessment ahead of year-end. After a lull in managerial turnarounds, 25% of Premier League bosses have been sacked in 2020-21, with Dean Smith (Aston Villa), Nuno Espirito Santo (Tottenham), Steve Bruce (Newcastle United) and Xisco Muñoz (Watford) all joining Farke in the queue for contractual compensation. There are others that are sitting in wobbly chairs at the moment, including Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United.

Norwich, despite the financial impact of covid, which has been estimated to be in excess of £ 30 million, managed to make a profit of £ 21.5 million in 2020-21, although their wage bill, one of the highest in the Championship last season, was 117% of income. Norwich have always been perceived as a conservative club and they have made a profit in three of the last five years.

The club’s revenues totalled £ 57.2 million, a drop of 62% after their last Premier season. There was a huge dependency on broadcasting income, the £ 49 million generated accounting for 86% of overall revenues. Matchday income fell by 7.5% and commercial earnings were slightly down. A year in the Premier should, even if it ends sourly, provide the financial platform to mount a challenge for promotion once more.

What next for Norwich? The club’s sporting director said, just a few weeks ago, that the results were not just down to Farke, so will there be more changes at Carrow Road? But the prospect of another relegation may have been too much to take. The club could do far worse than make a bold statement and give someone like Emma Hayes of Chelsea’s WSL team a chance. Now that would smack of innovation. Most likely it will be someone from the usual merry-go-round of candidates. 

State of Play: Norwich City – torn between two divisions

NORWICH CITY are a popular football institution, one that is sometimes too strong for second tier football, but often lacks the financial clout to maintain a top level presence. The club has little trouble gaining support at their homely, compact arena, but with the continued polarisation of English and European football, clubs like Norwich may have challenges ahead in finding their true place in the modern game.They will, undoubtedly, have to weigh-up the long-term benefits of speculation or choose a path of realistic sustainability, balancing immediate requirements with ambition and aspiration. If they are seen as a little cautious, Norwich’s experience of life outside the big time has equipped them well to manage expectation and to withstand future crises.

You can read more of Game of the People’s latest report State of Play NORWICH

Norwich City count the cost of promotion

NORWICH CITY are one of football’s yo-yo clubs, bouncing between divisions with regularity, mostly without a sense of panic that grips many clubs when they suffer reversals. The club is also one of those football institutions that people genuinely like – unthreatening, unassuming and surviving on a diet of little victories and the ability to periodically mount a successful promotion campaign. In the modern game, clubs like Norwich have no alternative unless a Russian oligarch flies over East Anglia and takes a fancy to Carrow Road.

Norwich are back in the Premier League and it’s tough. After losing at home to Watford, they fell to the bottom of the table and extended a miserable sequence to six defeats in seven games. They’ve won just two of their 12 fixtures, although one of them was at home to champions Manchester City. A victory that may grow in importance as the season progresses.

At the same time, while Norwich have struggled on the pitch, they’ve also released their financials for 2018-19 and revealed a loss of around £ 38 million. Although that compares unfavourably to 2017-18’s profit of £ 14.6 million, that shouldn’t worry Norwich too much given they are in the Premier this season and revenues should go well north of £ 100 million. Huddersfield, in their relegation season, received payments totalling £ 96 million.

The 2018-19 season was Norwich’s first without a parachute payment since their relegation in 2016. This meant the club saw revenues decline from £ 62 million in 2017-18 to £ 34 million. Norwich received parachute cash of £ 41 million and £ 34 million in the previous two years.

The club didn’t increase its player costs significantly, but the wage to income ratio, including bonuses, went above 100%, not unusual for the Championship. Subtracting the promotion bonuses, Norwich’s wage bill was 73% of turnover, up from 50% in 2017-18 due to the drop in overall revenues. Norwich clearly committed themselves to a promotion bid, although they didn’t have the benefit of a substantial profit from player trading, despite the sale of James Maddison to Leicester for £ 20 million in July 2018.

Norwich’s matchday income totalled around £ 19 million from an average crowd of 26,017, slightly up on the previous season. Norwich’s support base is a loyal one, with 20,000-plus season tickets sold. This equated to a stadium utilisation rate of 95.5%. Carrow Road is a small, neat and attractive ground, but the club is currently reluctant to extend its capacity. CEO David Kensell said earlier this year: “Speaking honestly, with our financial position, we would need to have a sustained period of time in the Premier League before we could actually commit to making movements.”

Norwich have invested in their academy and training facilities and also opened The Nest, a new community hub. They spent around £ 6 million on their academy and also used the money raised among investors to add a state-of-the-art gymnasium. They paid back £ 3.5 million related to the Canary Bond that helped to build these facilities.

The club is confident of a turnaround in financial performance. Company Secretary, Ben Dack, told the media: “The big positive is that we know next year, irrespective of what happens, we will turn a profit. Whether we retain Premier League status or get relegated will determine just how big those profits are.”

However, the loss for 2018-19 may restrict the club from strengthening its playing resources when the next transfer window opens. At the moment, it looks as though they might need something better to avoid relegation. Defeat at the hands of Watford, the Hertfordshire club’s first win of the season, is never going to look good. Head coach Daniel Farke, who called the game “a disaster”, is popular and people like his approach, but at some clubs, he would be in an increasingly precarious position. Maybe not at Norwich City, a club that seems to have a sense of realism about its purpose and objectives.


Photos: PA